The elegant, imposing Wright Opera House has been a mainstay of downtown Ouray for more than a century. Originally intended to offer cultural programming in contrast to saloons, gambling and other, less-savory sorts of entertainment ubiquitous in mountain towns in those days, the building has gone on to house a gymnasium; a Masonic lodge; a candy company; a dry goods company; and even a Texaco filling station (a gas pump was conveniently located just out front, on the sidewalk).
In ways highfalutin and more mundane (but never immoral), the Wright has always served the local community, in other words (on Saturday, it will livestream a climbing competition being held at Ouray Ice Park).
It is likely that brothers Ed and George Wright, who constructed the building that bears their name in 1881, would be happy to learn of this latest twist: the opera house not only continues to thrive more than a century on, it has received an award for successfully conserving — even burnishing — its past incarnations. Following years of restoration, the building received the 2022 Governor’s Award for an “exemplary” historic preservation project.
The Governor’s Award — the highest honor out of a small group of annual Stephen H. Hart awardees, named for the state’s first historic preservation officer — “recognizes the Wright Opera House as the best” when it comes to “historic preservation, honoring historic artistry, and implementing proper preservation techniques and effects,” a news release said. The award will be presented to the Wright’s staff and board at the History Colorado Center in Denver this spring.
The delight is that it happened at all, said the Wright’s president, Kate Jones.
“What’s crazy is that this award came out of nowhere,” Jones said. “We used the state’s historic funds-grant process to help us with this monumental (restoration) project. They maintain a list, and keep tabs on grant awardees’ development. They kept tabs on the Wright, and, lo and behold, we won this award.”
She learned about it an email a couple of months ago. “It read, ‘Dear Kate Jones, Congratulations!’” Jones recalled.
She was instantly suspicious. “I was like, ‘What is this?’” Jones recalled. “I read a little further and realized, omigosh, they’re recognizing us for this work! How exciting!”
A team of filmmakers from History Colorado soon followed up: “They said, ‘We’d like to interview you.’ They had a crew come out to Ouray last month. It was super fun. (Opera House Board of Director Vice President) Kit Meckel, who was really integral to the building process, was interviewed, and so was (executive director) Alyssa Preston.”
The plan is to use the footage on History Colorado’s website, to show it at the ceremony in Denver, and eventually in a documentary for Rocky Mountain PBS.
(“I was there, ready to be on camera, but they didn’t need me,” said Jones, who was a film executive in Los Angeles before relocating to Ouray. “I’m in some B-roll.”)
Along with the film crew, representatives of History of Colorado will return to Ouray for more footage of the Wright and — in cinematic lingo — man-on-the-street interviews later this spring. The main event, will be a community award for the opera house on Main Street. “They’ll make a day of it,” Jones said. “They’re celebrating us in our own town.” There will also be the presenting of, you know, an actual award, though Jones doesn’t know where it will go just yet. “We haven’t talked about that, but I keep eyeing our mantel,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll come up with some nice sort of shadow box, a permanent place for it to be. This award is exciting for us, and for the community,” Jones added. “We’re a non-profit. Everything we do is for the enrichment of our beautiful arts and culture.” Seventy-five percent of the funds for the building’s restoration came from donations by the local community.
To see a list of events at the Wright Opera House, visit thewrightoperahouse.org.